The Black Onyx in the Triple Gem

Lion’s Roar associate editor Pamela Ayo Yetunde introduces the May 2024 “Black & Buddhist” issue.

Pamela Ayo Yetunde
26 March 2024
Black Onyx Buddha Statue by Vince Blaski

I am so excited about this issue that it’s impossible to be still, even after years of practice! Nevertheless, I will joyfully reflect on the ebony jewel box of an issue that you have just received. 

In 2014, while earning my doctorate in pastoral counseling, I began mining gems of wisdom from Black Buddhist practitioners in the U.S. I wanted to find out if Buddhism is good for Black people, because for years, it had been ingrained in me that it was not. From my research I learned that—contrary to what I’d previously been told—Buddhism isn’t just helpful for people of Asian and European descent. Black practitioners in the Insight tradition who responded to my research told me that they felt profoundly and remarkably more resilient as a result of their Buddhist practices, and I published those findings.

“You are about to enter a world known only to a relatively few people on this earth. It is the world of the Black Buddhist experience in America.”

Over the past decade, other research focused on Black Buddhists has taken place, most notably by Professor Rima Vesely-Flad in her book Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation (NYU Press, 2022). Now more such research projects are in the works, so what is emerging is increased attention from academia. For example, Princeton University’s Center for Culture, Society, and Religion is launching a project to support the study of Black Buddhist writings and experiences across various academic disciplines. I hope this special issue will be a crowning onyx in its offering.

This issue is a unique collection. All the teachings, stories, and illustrations in it are by Black creators, some with celebrity status, and some you may be encountering for the first time. Within these pages, Black Buddhist practitioners from different traditions offer fine art, literature, insights on activism, and more. They discuss African and Buddhist deities, provides practices for folks in different economic situations, and offer powerful reflections on the ten paramis, the perfected qualities of enlightened beings. If you don’t find your favorite Black Buddhist creators in this issue, please search our archives for the many creators who have contributed to past issues, podcasts, and courses.

Now, you are about to enter a world known only to a relatively few people on this earth. It is the world of the Black Buddhist experience in America. No matter who you are, reading this issue will be like looking in a mirror and through a window at the same time. You will see part of yourself while also seeing some things unknown. As you prepare to enter this world, allow yourself to open your mind, your heart, your history, your conditioning, and be blessed by the lived experiences, the insights, the art, the practices, and the wisdom of African Americans practicing the buddha­dharma today. Reach deeply into this ebony box of onyx gems and see how blackness shines within the triple gems.

Pamela Ayo Yetunde

Pamela Ayo Yetunde is an associate editor at Lion’s Roar and the author of Casting Indra’s Net: Fostering Spiritual Kinship and Community. She is the co-editor of Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation and Freedom and has written other books and articles about being Black and Buddhist. Ayo is a pastoral counselor and is the founder of Marabella StoryCraft (